Smashing Spotlight: Matias Li-Pino, Quality Assurance Lead

Wonder what makes Smashing Ideas so smashing? Our people! We sat down with Matias Li-Pino, Quality Assurance Lead, to talk shop, why when chasing a bug one must put on a detective’s hat, the potential existential crisis of choosing between playing ping-pong and soccer, and the symbiotic relationship between QA and UX.

 

As Smashing’s QA (Quality Assurance) Lead, one can assume that you get paid to break things – with the intent to make the products we help bring to market as flawless as possible. Is that an overblown stereotype of QA? Furthermore, what does a typical day like for you?

While I agree with the assumption made, it is just one of the many steps to reporting a bug. In a way, when chasing a bug in software, one must put on a detective’s hat. The first step is to encounter the issue, then get the steps so that the issue reproduces 100% of the time (that is the goal in any case), then whittle down the reproduction steps so that a minimum amount of steps will cause its reproduction. Once this is complete, other information such as crash logs, screenshots, or device info is gathered. Then I present my findings in a well-worded document or bug tracking system, being aware of who the audience is (developers or the client). The worst bugs are the ones that do the break in a consistent way. I was up until 3 AM on a Sunday night a couple months ago chasing a hard to reproduce bug. Sometimes one gets carried away with testing and can’t rest until the bug is found!

Another big aspect to QA is to understand the UX (user experience) relationship of the application and the end user. UX was catapulted into the spotlight with the iPhone. QA nowadays should be very conscious of this field when helping deliver a quality product.

In any case, to address the original question, a typical day for me varies quite a bit. In a typical week I can be focusing on 3-5 projects. During a day I’ll have one or two projects that I am set to focus on. This can change slightly due to incoming requests throughout the day, such as managing devices, making sure our testers are tasked appropriately, sending out a test request, or meeting with project managers for input/a heads up on upcoming projects. I also try to keep things entertaining with a couple games of ping-pong around lunchtime and attempt to rally the troops with a set of pushups around 3 pm (about the time food coma sets in).

 

How did you initially get into QA?

QA is generally not a major taught in a university, so in a way, quality assurance engineering chose me. After finishing my Masters in Electrical Engineering from Colorado, I accepted a job offer from IBM in New York, testing software on their mainframes. Engineering was somewhat always in the cards for me. From studying math during the summers as a kid – thanks dad – to playing way too many video games during my teens, to then double majoring in Electrical Engineering and Mathematics from the University of Washington.

 

What surprises people about your job?

I am not sure about other people, but as for me I am constantly surprised with the diversity in background of fellow QAE’s. They range from military, to teachers, to other electrical engineers.

 

You’re known to initiate some pretty raucous rounds of push-ups contests in the office. Care to explain?

I think the seed for this was planted when I worked for IBM. Usually around 3 pm, for whatever reason (be it food coma or just nearing the end of the day) things would slow down for me. Back then I would get a soda for an energy bump. Later on I joined a start-up that had free sodas and snacks, but instead of a sugar high I decided to get the blood flowing by doing push ups. A couple other people joined and eventually it got to the point that when a horn was honked people would just show up (10-15 at times). It’s more of an anyone goes at their own pace kind of thing and it’s ok to switch things up (we have been doing two minute planks at the Smashing office lately).

 

What piece of tech are you most excited about in 2017?

AI’s (artificial intelligence) journey is a topic that has always intrigued me. It will be interesting to see how it continues to get incorporated into the market place over the coming years.

 

Some companies rush to get their products to market without going through the proper QA channels, ultimately to their own detriment. Beyond the obvious, why is QA such a critical component to a digital product’s process?

Maybe to answer this question one should consider what all is within the process. In most any project a lot of thinking, planning, and resources have gone into preparing the end product. Just about everything designed in the app was done so deliberately. Many different groups with differing goals will have touched the app (from the client’s input to UX, UI, marketing, our product managers, and developers). With varying degrees, each group interacts, or is aware of, the other but is mainly focused on their aspect. QA should have a good understanding of each group’s goals and check for the overall integration from each group with the end user in mind. In other words, QA navigates each group seamlessly to ensure that indeed everything that the user sees and interacts with in the app was deliberate. On top of this, QA must be an advocate for the future end user, sniffing out edge cases and potential pitfalls that haven’t been addressed yet.

 

Ah, the preverbal desert island question…you’re stuck on said island, but you’re in luck because you can have one piece of technology with you (and a phone to call for help doesn’t count). What would it be and why?

Oh geez. I don’t think I’d survive too long without Google. Maybe I’d want a device (with a renewable power source) with terabytes of data from Google with search results like, how to get off a desert island. Maybe being able to watch “Cast Away” on the device would help my nerves as well.

  

If you had to choose between only playing ping pong or soccer for the rest of your life, which would you choose and why?

HaHa. If I could play soccer everyday I would. One season I did play 5 times a week…that’s when I learned that my body can handle 3 times a week! I remember when I got the first Touzani video via email. This was before Youtube (for those that don’t know, Touzani is a great soccer free-styler and actually is still going now – he nutmegs professionals in 1v1 action, as well as does charity work. Click here to watch a funny one). I didn’t even realize that free style was a thing, so I spent a summer learning the ‘around the world’ trick.

 

How do you stay ahead of emerging technologies in order to fully test against every possible use-case scenerio? Do new(ish) technologies like AR/VR impact QA?

When it comes to testing anything I try to lean on my knowledge of probability and combinatorics (side note: combinatory proofs is where I realized the limits to my math acumen) to get a sense of the volume of what there is to test. From here I try to get sufficient test coverage by creating test cases based off of the flow that a user is likely to take, as well as edge-case paths that cover much of the rest. It’s a balance of creating too many tests which will take more time, and fewer tests which will take less time but likely cover less. Newer technologies will impact QA in the sense that the actual testing will be different, but the making of the test coverage will still follow a similar flow.

 

What is the craziest – or funniest – problem you have dealt with when testing products?

I’ll give one of each. The craziest bug I have found so far was a way to bypass a passcode feature on a mobile app, it involved quite a few steps (including going into airplane mode and force closing the app). Kind of makes a QA smile when the devs hold a few meetings over the issue and how to address it (I think this one took an architectural redesign to fix).

One of the funniest bugs encountered was more of a “in the moment” situation. The client’s marketing team had requested a “rate the app” section, with a yes / no question (yes would take them to the App Store).  Answering no happened to crash the app – which in a way would help the marketing team’s request to get users to rate the app, as a user would kind of want to answer yes the next time it showed…we had a bit of a laugh about this, but quickly fixed the issue.

 

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